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The Natural Resources of the Ancient Maya Civilization

18 October 2011 No Comment

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For more than 3,000 years, from 2000 B.C. until the Spanish started sending colonists across the Atlantic in the early to mid-1500’s A.D., the Maya civilization reached and maintained a high level of cultural development. In addition to mastering writing, math and astronomy, the Mayas made full use of the natural resources available in what is now Mexico, Central America and parts of South America. This innovative culture learned to not only mine successfully, but managed to turn their somewhat inhospitable tropical swampland into crop-bearing tracts of land.


The Mayas soon discovered that a variety of useful minerals were available beneath the surface of the hilly, sometimes mountainous terrain that they inhabited. Discovery of stones and minerals like flint, jade, obsidian, iron pyrite, cinnabar and hematite encouraged the development and refinement of mining techniques. Some of the minerals were used for dyes and colors in ceremonies but others, like flint, were put to use constructing tools and weapons.

Arable Land

The warm and tropical climate in which much of the Maya Empire lived lent itself well to growing crops for food. By devising a system of drainage ditches and canals, the Mayas were able to convert the tropical swampland into vast tracts of agricultural land and took advantage of the abundant rain and sunlight to create a near constant ready-made source of food. This allowed their culture to stay in one place rather than live a nomadic lifestyle following herds of deer.


Mining techniques also allowed the Mayas to extract clays from their digging operations, clays which were then used to create decorative as well as utilitarian bowls and drinking cups. Belize, in Central America, boasts excavation sites which hold evidence that the Mayas were skilled in the use of pottery perhaps as early as 2,500 B.C. In addition to clay, the Mayas also learned how to cut the abundant stone from their natural environment to construct homes and temples.


Whether in freshwater lakes and and streams or from the nearby ocean, the Mayas took full advantage of the natural resource of water, learning to harvest fish and shellfish as part of their regular diet. Oyster and clam shells were further employed as tools. It should be noted that the Maya civilization collapsed but never disappeared. Even today a sizable population exists in the area of Central America, keeping the old customs and traditions alive.

The above article was contributed to ehow.com by Dereck Dowell, eHow is one of the internet’s leading websites for resources on how to learn to do just about everything. Dereck used Chaa Creek’s research on the Maya Culture and History as one of the references to assist him with this article.

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